Mother of Parliaments outlaws breastfeeding in the House

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Indy Politics

It's official: breast is not best - at least not if you're a working mother in the House of Commons.

Despite vehement protests from women MPs, officials at the Palace of Westminster have ruled that breastfeeding is banned in the debating chamber and all committee rooms.

After weeks of deliberation, Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker of the Commons, has concluded that suckling infants at any point during proceedings is strictly verboten. In a classic piece of Yes Minister-style reasoning, Ms Boothroyd determined that breastfeeding constitutes "refreshment"."Bringing refreshment" into the House is banned.

Equally Byzantine is the Speaker's other main reason for the ban, namely that babies are "persons other than members of the committee and specified officers and officials".

Ms Boothroyd, who rules out bottle-feeding too, has decided that babies should not be allowed into standing committees or select committees.

The ruling follows protests from Julia Drown, Labour MP for Swindon South, who wrote to the Serjeant at Arms, Michael Cummings, to ask if she could bring her four-month old son Harvey into Parliament when she couldn't find child care. Ms Drown was advised that she should "seriously avoid" the Commons chamber or the voting lobby, the tea room, where members famously conspire, and even quiet parts of the library.

She was directed instead to use the traditional rooms used by women MPs: the Lady Members rooms and the Families Room. "There is also a nappy changing facility in the disabled lavatory," she was told.

Now the Speaker has effectively barred MPs from taking babies into any part of the Commons where active business occurs. Last night Ms Drown was depressed at the news, saying MPs were called to vote at very short notice and it was difficult to get child care at 1am. "All I wanted was to feed him quietly with no fuss, while I got on with the business of the committee," she said.

"I recently asked my fellow members of a standing committee if they would object and they said they wouldn't. In fact, they welcomed it."